A vast amount and variety of mine tailings are produced around the world each day. In the gold¬mining industry in South Africa the residue of crushed are is disposed of in large tailings or hydraulic fill dams. The outer walls of these dams are built up of layers of material, each of which is allowed to dry before the next layer is placed. In order to study the stability of these walls, the appropriate engineering properties of the tailings must be ascertained. Due to the construction technique used in tailings dam construction, the outer walls are in an unsaturated state, which also means that suctions are generated within the tailings. Various techniques exist to measure suction, most of which are indirect methods. The recent development of the mid-¬plane suction probe at the University of Pretoria created the opportunity of measuring suctions directly on desiccating samples of gold mine tailings. A test method has been developed from which soil mechanics parameters can be derived from suction measurements. The experimental programme consisted of a series of these newly developed tests on fine and coarse samples of gold mine tailings, as well as on different particle size ranges. The experimental results were used in the development of a new method of predicting the air-entry value, with only the grading of the tailings known. A new method of predicting the soil-water characteristic curve up to the air-entry value was also proposed. The results of the research showed that the tailings remain saturated up to the air-entry value. The clay, fine silt and medium silt sized tailings was found to be the controlling particle size ranges in the development of suctions. The vast amount of parameters and information gained through the use of the proposed test method clearly indicates its effectiveness in studying the performance and characteristics of a material drying from saturation. The results also indicated the effectiveness of the mid-plane suction probe for the direct measurement of suction.
Dissertation (M Eng (Geotechnical Engineering))--University of Pretoria, 2006.